The creaking of an opening gate followed by a dog attack can disturb otherwise pleasant evening walks. The sound of that gate opening on subsequent walks will elicit an emotional response, and the power of this response will be different if the dog was a German shepherd or a poodle. Through repeated experiences, the neighborhood, the gate and the dog all become part of the brain’s emotional memory system. The core of this system–the amygdala–forges indelible links of experience when we are attacked or threatened but, thanks to the power of expectation, the strength of these emotional memories is proportional to the unpleasantness of the experience. “Forming an emotional memory is all about learning and calibrating our internal expectations with repeated external stimuli from the environment,” says Joshua Johansen, a team leader at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute.
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